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I'm Black and my wife is Japanese. Here's why raising my biracial kids in Japan is better than in the US.

Darryl Wharton-Rigby   

I'm Black and my wife is Japanese. Here's why raising my biracial kids in Japan is better than in the US.
  • In 2005, I visited Japan for work and ended up meeting my wife, with whom I have two boys and a girl.
  • My kids' lives are filled with Japanese and African-American culture, so they appreciate both.

As biracial Japanese stars such as Rui Hachimura and Naomi Osaka shine on the world stage, being Black and Japanese is having a moment. I ventured to Japan on a yearlong contract with the Japan Exchange and Teaching program in 2005, which has turned into an 18-year journey, marked by my marriage to a Japanese woman and the arrival of my three children — two boys and a girl.

My father-in-law asked how I would handle our children being bullied for not being "100% Japanese." I said, "Who better to teach a child about discrimination than a Black man from the US?" I surmised I would have to contend with this at some point.

As an English teacher in Japan, I saw students teased for their differences. Working as an actor, I witnessed blackface during a TV shoot where Japanese talent portrayed a biracial character, which underlined some deep cultural misunderstandings. And last year, a biracial teenager was barred from graduating for wearing braids.

In a nation known for rich traditions and respect, attitudes toward those who are not ethnically Japanese vary. I was acutely aware of the need to prepare my children for slights and microaggressions, not only in Japan but also on a global scale, yet the reality subverted many of my expectations.

Their lives include a mix of Japanese and Black culture

Our tranquil suburban enclave in Saitama, which I call the "New Jersey of Japan," offers my children a typical Japanese lifestyle. Our home is a mix of both cultures. We have a kotatsu, tatami room, and shoji, with walls sporting African masks and original artwork (some by Black artists), including a Black Jesus painting. When my kids were younger, I ensured they had action figures and dolls (such as Finn from "Star Wars") that looked like them.

Our eldest, now a high-school student, performs hip-hop and break dancing, reads manga, and watches "Kamen Rider." He was voted student-government president in junior high. Our middle child aspires to be a professional soccer player, with multiple high schools courting his talents. He enjoys playing online PC games with his friends, watching "One Piece," and fishing. Our youngest does jazz and hip-hop dance, has taken shodou lessons, enjoys the company of girlfriends she has known since kindergarten, and loves anime and YouTube.

They all attend public schools. And like other kids in Japan, they frequent the mall, savor ramen and melon pan, and belt out tunes at karaoke.

As a bilingual family, we often discuss language nuances

With Japanese as their primary language, like their peers, they see English as an academic subject, not a tool for daily communication. I am their conduit to speaking English. They help me with my Japanese, and I often share linguistic nuances with them.

Earlier this year, my oldest son sang a song with the N-word, which offered an opportunity for us to delve into the word's history and implications. In Japan, this racial slur carries little weight, and its use is nonexistent — a stark cultural contrast between the US and Japan.

My children don't have the same fear of police interactions that I do

In Japan, I do not wear the same emotional armor as I do in the US, and my children have not had to bear that burden. We do not fear police interactions and have not had to initiate "the talk" addressing racial profiling and harassment. Fortunately, they have not encountered scrutiny based on their appearance or endured unwarranted stops by officers.

My youngest son and his friends were approached by a police officer after violating bicycle rules. The officer focused on those in the middle of the street, sparing my son, who was riding along the side.

This, in part, is due to our suburban residence. We acknowledge that when we visit the US, or even somewhere outside our community, including Tokyo, they will face a starkly different reality compared with their experiences in Saitama.

My children's physical appearance may differ from their peers, but their internal identity is deeply rooted in a Japanese lifestyle, alongside a sense of their African American heritage. They enjoy an carefree childhood experience, untainted by the need to grow up too fast.

My Blackanese family embodies a fusion of cultures as they navigate their individual journeys, enriched by the best of both worlds.

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